In the Toybox: Architect & Designer Giorgio Zuffanti

Architect and designer Giorgio Zuffanti.

Today we interview Giorgio Zuffanti, a 32-year-old Sicilian-born architect and designer who is working and living in Brooklyn, New York. Zuffanti is Senior Project Designer for Doban Architecture in Brooklyn and a product designer at Think Fabricate, Doban’s design studio for furnishing and custom-built projects. Zuffanti recently designed the Think Fabricate booth for the Brooklyn Designs trade show as part of NYCxDesign and got a nomination for a Best of Year 2016 award from Interior Design magazine for his furniture design. We asked Zuffanti about his design process, where he draws his inspiration, and to share a few of his favorite things about his native Sicily (hint, one of them is food).

Zuffanti finds inspiration in the cobblestone streets of Dumbo.

When did you first come to New York City and what are your impressions of the city?

The first time I came here was 2012, and it was love at first sight. I can’t forget when I saw the NYC skyline, it was an amazing emotion. I stayed for six months but then I got an important job offer in Shanghai. After an great experience in Asia I had the opportunity to go back to New York City. Now, I work and live in Brooklyn, a place that I really love.

The symbol of Catania is the Fontana dell’Elefante (Elephant Fountain), created in 1736 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. Photo courtesy of By Urban (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

Can you tell us a little about your native Catania?

Catania, and Sicily in general, is full of art, nature, incredible landscapes, and exceptional food. That’s what I love the most about my hometown. This city is situated under the biggest active volcano in Europe and has a special urban vitality. In the past, the city has been dominated by several different cultures and represents one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture. The major characteristic of its architecture is the theatricality. The downtown area is a World Heritage Site. There are a lot of places that I am intimately involved, but I left my heart in Ortygia, a small island which is the historical center of the city of Syracuse and where I lived for five years during university. Excluding my family, the two things I miss the most of my hometown are the sea, and its inebriating smell, and the amazing food.

What was the first product you designed?

My first product design was a table, the structure was in wood and coated with a white resin. I love that table! I had also the chance to produce it in two different variations, one of which had a bench included. I realized that table for a design showroom in Catania.

“I’ve realized that objects that are designed right are those that are able to communicate.”

Zuffanti designed the Think Fabricate booth at Brooklyn Designs. The Dialogue table and bench, shown, are also his designs.

Which projects are you working on now for Doban Architecture?

30 Locust Avenue in New Rochelle is a six-story, 94 unit residential building designed for occupancy by students at nearby Monroe College. Another important project is 387 Huguenot in New Rochelle, a six-story 60-unit multifamily residential building. It’s one of the first buildings designed using the new form-based zoning adopted in New Rochelle. I like this project because it incorporates a community art benefit space, which is intended to contribute to the formation of an “art district” in the city. Both buildings are made of a wood-frame modular construction.

In collaboration with Think Fabricate (our affiliated design studio for furnishing and custom-built projects) we create furniture and booth design for important trade show such as Brooklyn Designs and the Architectural Digest Design Show. The Dialogue Series includes a table and bench that are designed and fabricated in Brooklyn in maple and walnut with a brass inlay pattern. The idea was to bring out the tactile materiality and enjoyment of objects. After these experiences I’ve realized that objects that are designed right are those that are able to communicate.

Zuffanti hand draws his furniture designs.

You studied in both Sicily and China. Why did you chose China?

I got my Masters Degree at the University of Catania, School of Architecture in Syracuse. My first experience in China was in 2010 for an international Workshop of Architecture and Urban Design – the urban regeneration of the industrial heritage in Beijing. That experience was amazing and I realized that my sensibility needed to explore that country. All that energy, that air of change, had greatly excited me. So I decided to return to China the following year. That time I developed my experimental thesis for my Masters Degree at Tsingua University School of Architecture. During that period I lived a beautiful experience, both personally and professionally, but unfortunately my Mandarin is still very basic!

Who and what inspires you?

I have strong and emotional memories of my childhood, which took place on the seaside, far from the city.

The environment and the people that surround me are very important. I am constantly looking for positive energy, which is indispensable for making great projects. For these reasons I love Brooklyn.

In general, my sources of inspiration are never the same, but always come from the context in which I find myself. My love for the new architecture, comes through the work of deconstructivist architects like Zaha Hadid, but over the years and the experience around the world my taste and sensibility is changing in favor of a simpl and clear architecture. This evolution is visible in my projects especially in my design products, characterized by simple lines and exploration of materials. I’ve always been fascinated by the works and life of Louis Kahn. In my last interior exploration, I realized my love for the products of Tom Dixon.

Brass inlay detail for Dialogue table.

What are the main differences between designing in Italy and the United States?

Italy represents a very important part for the design in the world, thanks to great designers that during the last century have contributed with magnificent products that are always in our memories. This culture is rooted in me! But I think that currently in the United States there is more opportunity for exploring design production. There is more flexibility and freedom of thought for the new design, and the energy and vitality of some cities as New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles are proof of that.

Architect and designer Susan Doban with Doban Architecture, Giorgio Zuffanti, and Christine Abbate, President of Novita Communications are sat at Zuffanti’s Dialogue table during last May’s Brooklyn Designs event during NYCxDesign.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

I love wood, brass and metal.

The Wall*Nut Hexagons shelving modules with the Dialogue Table from Think Fabricate.

Can you tell us a little bit about your design process designing furniture? 

I start by hand. I sketch ideas then I always try to analyze, investigate why certain details touched me. Then I try to translate them into three dimensions with the help of some software.

A detail of the Dialogue bench in Walnut.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I’m working on some residential projects and I’m curating a new collection of pieces of furniture for Think Fabricate. We are adding to the Dialogue Series with a new chair.

Photo Credit: Think Fabricate table and bench photos courtesy of Jeremy Frechette. All others courtesy of Giorgio Zuffanti, except where noted.

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